Article by Astrid Wihman, Writer

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Ambition. It’s a word that many of us at ASIJ are characterized by. Though it seems obvious that diversity in ambition is evident, we—as a community—have come to a point where we have formulated a linear definition of who is “high achieving.” We all want to have multiple APs on our transcripts, a varsity sport or activity, and to be active leaders of a service club.

Today, I want to propose that our conception of who is “successful” and “not successful” is harmful to our own confidence as students, as well as our ability to vary our interests.

Photo by Fiona Lee

During my interviews, a common thread seemed to run through the voices of students. A fellow junior talked about how he finds his stress unfounded because he only takes AP Physics. In another case, a freshman said that she felt worried that she wouldn’t stand out to universities because she doesn’t take eight classes. Both of these examples show that there are students in our community who feel insecure about their own academic abilities due to our tacit insistence that they stick to a certain mold.

Part of this mold is built by the misconceptions of what constitutes a “good student” to universities. One student survey asked for students’ thoughts regarding college as an activities motivator. One student noted her frustration with students participating in activities only for their college applications. For her, having members only take part for the sake of college devalued the activity. From this, it is evident that having a common idea of “success” tends to inhibit us from exploring things that are on the road less traveled.

Part of this idea of “success” is defined by where we get into college. Currently, we all seem to promote a culture in which certain schools are glorified. And I think we’re all guilty of gossiping about where people get accepted. One could say that this behavior is the result of a preoccupation over how college placement corresponds to our school’s imagined hierarchy. I think that this same preoccupation elicits behavior that invalidates those who aren’t trying to participate in the cat-and-mouse chase for the prize of attending an Ivy League school.

But what is the point of going to the Ivy League?

It’s to get an education.

But “education” could mean you’re making the most of school resources to design clothes. It could mean that you’re singing at every opportunity that you get so that you can make it to Broadway one day. It could mean that you’re spending every day after school to cultivate a bacterial culture that could save millions.

Photo by Fiona Lee

The point is, if we’re all working hard in various areas, is there a need to contrive artificial comparison?

Ambition is an ambiguous word for a reason. We all work hard, and each to our own ability. Negative comments about those who we believe are doing less than ourselves may seem like a cure to our self-doubts, but they are not. By encouraging a culture where we put down each other for not fitting into the mold of the “high-achieving,” we are dimming the light of those whose passions don’t meet particular, traditional criteria, and lessening ourselves.